Why Liverpool's Jordan Henderson should be player of the year
London - In that final, dramatic minute, as red shirts set off to engulf Mohamed Salah, one Liverpool player’s reaction was at odds with the utterly euphoric scene.
Jordan Henderson had watched Salah scurry away from Daniel James, but rather than raise his fist in celebration as the Egyptian finally put Manchester United out of their misery, Liverpool’s captain dropped to his knees and buried his face in the turf.
At first glance, it looked like he was sobbing.
He stayed in that position for a couple of seconds, the kind you often see players assume after a cup has been ripped from their grasp, and it was only when Virgil van Dijk strolled past that Henderson climbed to his feet.
"It is special, we’re enjoying our football but you’ve got to stay hungry, you’ve got to keep learning and keep wanting more."@JHenderson and @MoSalah insisted the Reds will not look beyond the next game after today's 2-0 win over @ManUtd 👊🔴— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 19, 2020
‘That’s it,’ Van Dijk said to Henderson, with a beaming smile. ‘It’s done.’
Van Dijk was talking solely about the game but many will have felt Salah’s goal ended the title race, certainly those on the Kop who — for the first time this season — began bellowing repeatedly: ‘And now you’re gonna believe us! We’re gonna win the league!’
The euphoria, though, meant nothing to Henderson. He had put such effort into this contest that he was emotionally and physically spent. Nobody on Jurgen Klopp’s team did more during the 90 minutes to secure victory 21 of this remarkable campaign.
‘Pretty intense,’ was the phrase Van Dijk used — again with a smile — to describe Henderson’s efforts, as he laughed about the captain’s volcanic demeanour throughout the contest.
From an early stage, Henderson was a picture of finger-jabbing intensity as he implored others to maintain their standards.
Nobody was safe from his exhortations. When Salah failed to track back in the first half, Henderson was on him. When Trent Alexander-Arnold wasted a pass, he got a broadside. So, too, did Andrew Robertson after he wandered out of position. And Sadio Mane, as he tried one run too many.
So many players in this Liverpool team command headlines.
You could start with Alisson Becker — the keeper with Velcro hands who is never in the wrong place — move on to the wonderful Van Dijk or focus on Roberto Firmino, whose brain and skill make it all come together.
Henderson’s role in this campaign, however, has been colossal. He is the beating heart of this squad, the standard-setter and the running man, who covered 7.14 miles against United.
He has been playing in that vein for 12 months and when someone shows such consistency, it deserves recognition. Kevin De Bruyne, of course, is the favourite to become the PFA Player of the Year. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy will have a portion of the vote, too. But the biggest challenge to De Bruyne this season may yet be this 29-year-old from Sunderland, who is in the finest form of his career.
Plenty reading that will scoff at the idea of Henderson winning the ultimate accolade from his fellow professionals, but when you consider the impact he is having on a team who are ripping up the record books, is it that fanciful a notion?
91 - Liverpool have taken 91 points from the last 93 available to them in the Premier League (P31 W30 D1 L0). Insanity. pic.twitter.com/pbHDfG6PM5— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 19, 2020
Look at his catalogue of work: Henderson has lifted the Champions League trophy, European Super Cup and Club World Cup.
He has shown adaptability, playing a variety of roles — he was deployed as a central defender in the Club World Cup semi-final, remember — and always with aplomb.
Yesterday, his fingerprints were all over a triumph over Manchester United that should have been more emphatic than by just two goals.
He barely wasted a pass, hardly missed a tackle and only the width of a post stopped his thumping left-foot drive from ripping into the Kop End net.
Critics used to say Henderson did not influence big games, but now he has reached his peak, he is stamping his presence all over them.
He was the star man when Liverpool beat Flamengo in the Club World Cup final, as he was again in English football’s Clasico.
De Bruyne is a wonderful player, who sees things on a football pitch that others do not see, but it is not a foregone conclusion now that he will win the award for which he has long been favourite.
A challenge to him was always going to come from Anfield but the source is unlikely.
History beckons for Henderson this spring. The mammoth lead Liverpool have built at the head of affairs means he is going to join men such as Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Phil Thompson and Emlyn Hughes, the captains who have lifted the English championship trophy.
Should he maintain the levels he has so thrillingly found — do not forget that last week England’s fans recognised him as their Player of the Year for 2019 — the Premier League trophy might not be the only one he lifts. Do not be surprised if the gong comes his way.Daily Mail